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Essay on The Great Chain of Being in Hamlet

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The main concept of the Great Chain of Being is that every existing thing in the universe has its “place” in an outlined hierarchical order. Where it is placed depends on the amount of spirit and importance in society it has. The chain commences at God and progresses downward to angelic beings, kings, princes, nobles, regular humans, animals, plants, and many other objects of nature. According to this theory, all existing things have their specific function in the universe, and causing any kind of disorder on the higher links of this chain courts disaster. In Hamlet, Shakespeare dwells on the idea of a disheveled natural social order which restrains human beings’ ability to live peacefully. The society presented in this play is a society of chaos and anarchy that has no light at the end of the tunnel indicating recuperation. The Great Chain of Being is brutally distraught in Hamlet, and until the very end, there is never a point where it is truly serene.
From the very beginning of the play, it is very obvious that there is some sort of social disarrangement occurring in Denmark. The most consequential state of confusion in Hamlet is the death of Old Hamlet. The king falls almost directly underneath God in the Great Chain of Being. With the original king removed from the hierarchy, God and other angelic beings are disconnected from their control over the people, thus ensuing chaos. At the beginning, when Claudius says, “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death The memory be green, and that it us befitted To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom To be contracted in one brow of woe” (Shakespeare 1.2.1-4), and “Now follows, that you know, young Fortinbras, Holding a weak supposal of our worth, Or thinking by our late...


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...ith a dead body count of eight characters by the end of the play, the Great Chain of Being is finally linked together again, with Fortinbras as the leader. It is pretty clear what was “rotting the state of Denmark”, and apparently a bunch of the main characters had to die to get it back to the hierarchical order it was in with Old Hamlet. What a marvelous ending, with one big happy family – of death.



Works Cited

Tiffany, Grace. "Hamlet, Reconciliation, and the Just State." Shakespearean Criticism 102.58.2 (2005): 111-33. Print.
Wilds, Lillian. "Hamlet." Shakespearean Criticism 92 (2005): 139-87. Print.
Wilson, John Dover. What Happens in Hamlet. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1956.
States, Bert O. Hamlet and the Concept of Character. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P, 1992.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Clayton: Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classics, 2005. Print.



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